Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Hall, a good friend of mine who runs Hydra Publications, a small press from Indiana that focuses on speculative fiction. I did an interview with him, which was a lot of fun, and we chatted about my projects, past, present, and future.
It was a lot of fun, and it is posted over at their website. You can check it out here: http://www.hydrapublications.com/2011/12/26/interview-with-patrick-dorazio/
I was provided Z Magazine for review purposes and I was blown away by it. For anyone who is a fan of zombies, this is one of those items that goes into the collection and more than likely gets put in an airtight plastic bag so you can save it for years to come. The creators of this magazine, one of which is Eloise Knapp, who wrote the very entertaining The Undead Situation, did an incredible job. I typically try to avoid gushing when it comes to a review of zombie related material, but I can’t say that I have ever seen something quite like this. The magazine is full sized (a bit over 8 1/2″ by 11″) and every last bit of it, down to the advertisements and want ads (plus personals, etc) are zombie related. This is truly a magazine for the undead…and fans of the undead, with advice on how zombies can interact with the living in social situations, recipes to spice up that brain tartar, inspirational tales including how Z’s can be for Jesus, job suggestions for the undead, and a big spread on zombie models and fashion. The magazine is chock full of much more, and each page was a delight to check out.
My understanding is that Eloise Knapp is studying graphic design in college currently, and if this is what she has to show for her efforts thus far, she has a very prosperous career ahead of her, along with her writing talent taking her places as well.
You can get Z Magazine over at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Magazine-First-Written-Zombies/dp/B0062FUSRM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324759690&sr=1-1
Undead Drive-Thru is a novella that tells the tale of Betty Jones, whose husband Sam comes stumbling home one night after having apparently been abducted and experimented on, or so it seems. Before she can even help him, he is dead on the floor. Moments later, he is back on his feet, lunging at her, possessed by the desire to feed on her flesh. Betty understands immediately what must be done…and no, it’s not what you think.
A year later and Betty, now known as Aunt-B, is opening up an old diner with the help of her nephew, John, two hired teenage girls, Ky and Colleen, and Jose, another young man. At the same time, Aunt-B and John are trying to keep a dark little secret from the hired help and the rest of the world. Because you see, Aunt-B couldn’t imagine being without Sam, even though he is dead, and she has plans of moving him from the basement of her house over to the basement of the diner before it’s up and running, so she can keep an eye on him during working hours. The problem is that Sam occasionally gets out of his prison, and his yearning for flesh tends to become a serious issue.
This was a fun little zombie story that I was able to read in a little over an hour. While brief, we get enough background on the characters that none of them felt wooden or artificial and the author even manages to give Sam a bit of a personality; a zombie that looks like it is smiling at you, which is a pretty disturbing proposition. I enjoyed this one, though I think John rubbed me the wrong way in more than one instance. While I get that he is trying to stay out of jail (he is on probation for theft, I believe) and as such blindly obeys his Aunt to keep in her good graces, I felt he was perhaps a bit spineless, which made it hard for me to feel any sympathy or empathy for him. But he, like the teenage girls and especially Aunt-B were quite vivid characters for such a short amount of “screen time” as it were. Overall, a creepy, entertaining tale that I could imagine translating into a movie or even an episode from Tales from the Crypt.
Undead Drive-Thru can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Drive-Thru-Rebecca-Besser/dp/1611990092/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324756066&sr=1-1
Cyrus V. Sinclair thinks he is a sociopath. And perhaps he is, though it is hard to be certain. What is for certain is that he is an overly confident loner who seems ideally built for the end of the world, at least in a situation where the dead rise and the living become fodder for them. He lives alone in his soundproofed and reinforced apartment in Seattle, and given his lack of interest in anyone except for his pet ferret Pickles and mentor, Frank, he is okay watching the world fall apart outside his window. He is not the man with the plan; he is the man with a lack of concern about his fate, or the fate of anyone else.
This story starts with him doing nothing for the most part except sitting back collecting rainwater and reading old copies of guns and ammo, though he does venture out to a corner store to grab, of all things, candy. Cyrus has a sweet tooth, and while he works hard to stay in shape, has stocked up on MREs, and has a small arsenal in his apartment, he has a penchant for sugary snacks that is extreme, and we are reminded of that on a regular basis in this story.
Things get shaken up in Cyrus’s world when Gabriella, or Gabe as he dubs her, shows up underneath his window, fleeing from a pack of the undead on the street below. Young and tough, she fascinates him enough with her false bravado that he lets her into his apartment, though it becomes clear quickly that he is none too fond of her or her attitude toward the world. Soon, after a few misadventures, the two of them decide to leave the apartment on a hunt to find Frank, Cyrus’s only human friend in the world. Through several more adventures with both the dead and living, the trio happen upon Blaze, a tough as nails ex-marine that fascinates Cyrus for her ruthless nature, which is also why she is also despised by Gabe, who still believes that the world, and the human race, is worth saving.
The story progresses with the objective of getting to Frank’s cabin in the woods-a hideaway built for survivalists that is far removed from the undead world that surrounds the quartet at every turn. Naturally, along the way they find numerous others trying their best to survive-from the desperate, to the crazed, to the innocent and weak. Through these experiences we get to know Cyrus and his compatriots, and what is revealed is often repellant-especially with Cyrus and Blaze. We are not dealing with heroes here, but people willing to do what it takes to survive, often by dismissing others who plead for their help.
I know that this story has gone through some changes since it was originally written as a self-published work and then became a Permuted offering, though I can’t say for sure what all the changes are-I had a chance to check this story out in its infancy (approximately the first third of it) and even offered up some feedback to the author. I have always felt that she had a compelling character in Cyrus V. Sinclair, though I questioned then, as I question now, as to what extent he is a sociopath. Granted, he seems to kill with ease during the apocalypse and does relate an early experience where he killed as a child, though in the telling of the tale it seems that Cyrus has convinced himself more of his homicidal nature than perhaps what actually occurred-we as readers of this first person chronicle have to take his word on how things went down. Or so it seems to me. Cyrus is rather boastful of his ability to remain impassive and lacking in any sort of human compassion and yet he can’t deny the bonds that form between him and the other members of his small company, including his pet, Pickles.
I think the author has done a excellent job in creating a despicable and yet very much human character that despises weakness and vulnerability while displaying it himself quite regularly. And when he contrasts himself with Blaze even he realizes that he is not nearly as tough and callous as this woman with a scar and a nasty streak a mile wide. Cyrus plays at being superior to all around him (except perhaps for Frank), but time after time he makes mistakes, nearly getting himself killed over and over again by the undead and the living. In these instances he typically requires someone else to save him, but brushes over it like it isn’t a big deal. I think it would have been fascinating to read this same story in third person, without the biased viewpoint of Cyrus clouding the picture of him. We see this dead world through his eyes, which is fascinating, but I also think it would be fascinating to see it from an outside perspective. I think much would be revealed about his true nature, and not just what he wants us to believe.
This is a unique story in the zombie genre. My tendency is to prefer works that are character driven like this one. The author has created a very intriguing character to examine and wonder about. On that level, the story is a winner. With that said, I feel it only fair to point out a couple of issues that I had with the telling of this tale. I really don’t feel the change in perspective to another character for a single chapter was necessary. It was like a hurdle that slowed down the tempo of the story and served as an unneeded disruption in my opinion. I feel that what was revealed could have remained a mystery that was slowly unveiled through Cyrus’s suspicious eyes, as needed. I also feel that what occurs in that particular chapter needed to be further elaborated upon (once again, through Cyrus’s eyes). It changes the course of the novel profoundly, and while more may be revealed in a sequel, I think more needed to be devoted to that storyline within this book.
Overall, this is a great first effort from Eloise Knapp. It takes guts to craft a main character that is, for the most part, a despicable human being and then craft another character that is, on many levels, even more despicable. It takes a certain level of skill to make readers grow fascinated with these two, as I did, while I am sure there will be some folks who just despise them and will leave it at that. I’m not sure that I could say I ever grew attached to Cyrus or Blaze and like them all that much, but I have to admit they are a pair of very interesting survivors that will likely draw me in for the sequel.
The Undead Situation can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Situation-Eloise-J-Knapp/dp/1934861588/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1324743397&sr=1-1
Carole Lanham has compiled a series of intriguing poems and short stories that all revolve around the experiences of children in dark and strange places-sometimes these places are in the mind, and in other instances, geographically and chronologically distance lands that seem like dreamscapes, even if they are in places as commonplace as a farm in rural Iowa. The stories here have a way of tantalizing without revealing too much, too soon. Many of the stories tease about the relationships among boys and girls-their dreams and fears, lusts and passions. And while what the characters are experiencing seem so real and within your grasp as a reader, there is a magic allure to them that makes them fleeting and illusive. They have an otherworldly quality about them. It is not just the tales with obvious magic, like ‘Keepity-Keep’ or ‘Friar Garden…’, or the tales beset with monsters, like ‘The Good Part’ or ‘The Blue Word’, but every tale and every poem within this compilation. Even though ‘Maxwell Treat’s…’, ‘The Reading Lessons’, and ‘The Forgotten Orphan’ all seem as if they could take place in the real world-our world-the author manages to transport us to mysterious and alien realms in them that are fascinating and dark beyond the realities most of us will ever deal with.
I enjoyed this compilation. I had read ‘The Blue Word’ previously, and while I normally skip a tale when I come across it for the second time, I found myself compelled to read it again and was filled with the same level of sadness and regret that I felt the first time, even when I knew what was coming at the end of the story. It is one of my favorites in this book, along with Keepity-Keep. Some of the other tales didn’t resonate with me quite as much, but they still had a flavor to them that is hard to pin down or describe-like a meal in a restaurant you’ve never been to before. They sort of leave a odd taste in your mouth, but not in a bad way…in more of a fantastical way that sticks with taste buds long after the food is gone. There wasn’t a particular story or poem I didn’t like-the author pulled me in with each, and even if there may have been a certain aspect or one or the other that didn’t click for me (the ending of ‘Friar Garden’ seemed rather abrupt for my tastes), they all made sense in a strange, dream-filled way.
Carole Lanham has a tremendous talent for the written word. I don’t just mean this because she can craft a story, which she most certainly can do, but because there is a particular quality to each story that transports you, like some authors are able to do-taking you elsewhere with just a few words in the first few sentences. Some authors make you feel at home with their writing, as if you are reading about people you feel like you know and could find yourself surrounded by even if they are in a environment that is pure fantasy or beyond belief. Carole Lanham does not do that here, in this book. Instead, she has the knack of introducing characters and places that take you out of that comfort zone and puts you on alert that there is something strange going on, both in the world at large and within the characters themselves that make them different from you or I. You may not be able to figure it out right away, and even if you think you do, you realize that there is probably more to it with every passage you read. And in the end, things don’t all fall into place. You are left wondering what just happened.
The Whisper Jar is a compelling read, sweet and savory while often times leaving you squirming with discomfort as you journey through its pages.
You can find The Whisper Jar here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Whisper-Jar-ebook/dp/B0062ID33K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324185038&sr=8-1
Fleshbags takes place over the course of the initial hours on the what might be the first day of the zombie apocalypse, though the creatures involved are enough of a variation on traditional zombies to be considered their own subspecies. Of course, they would fall into the zombie category, but have some different characteristics, that’s for sure. The author has taken time to create a man-made virus that is fascinating in its assault on its victims. The story itself goes from hour to hour of the growing infection, with the elements of confusion and hysteria that come along with it. We get to see where the virus is being developed (and still tweaked), with hints as to why it’s been created. We see how far it has spread, or so we think, though once again, there are hints at a larger story at play, with the military getting involved pretty rapidly. There is plenty of confusion and no clear understanding of what is going on by virtually anyone running through the pages of this story, including the victims themselves. Each is focused on their own desire to survive with a lot of the plot taking place in and around a daycare that is close to the epicenter of the virus’s release.
As I mentioned, it would be tough to call the victims of this virus zombies. They certainly share enough traits with that category of monster, but they still live, or at least retain a level of cognition for a time, that allows the reader to see what is going on inside their minds. The author hints at more hidden beneath the depths of their gory exterior, with expressions on some of these creatures faces that show they seem reluctant to carry out the violence they are prone to perpetrating on the innocent. As the author (and one of the characters in the story) has dubbed them, they are fleshbags. Parts of their anatomy seem to go runny around their midsection, and their skin appears to be more like a transparent bag showing their insides rather than skin. Again, these zombies are different…they act different in many ways, they look different, and on some level, retain the ability to think, if only for a short time.
The story itself follows several different characters maneuvering through the northern suburbs of Detroit. I recognized many of the streets mentioned due to my travels in that city. This is a novella-length story, and there are quite a few characters, so we move from place to place and person at a quick pace. There are loose ends at the end, which lead me to believe that this might be the start of a larger project by the author. As a stand alone, it is an entertaining bit of gore splashed apocalyptic fiction that moves at a quick, and sometimes blurred pace. I liked how the author delved into the minds of some of the fleshbags as they transition-they seemed as confused and bewildered as the living surrounding them. I would be curious to see more of this tale, if indeed this develops into something larger from the author. Especially with the so many questions left unanswered at the end.
As an added bonus, the author includes two more zombie-centric short stories and excerpts from two of his other long form works as well. The short stories were both non-traditional tales of the undead that were interesting and thought provoking reads for me. Overall, a fun zombie-centric read that make me interested in seeing more from this author.
Fleshbags can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Fleshbags-ebook/dp/B005IDGQNY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323548281&sr=8-1
The Walking Dead, Rise of the Governor, should be more aptly titled (as mentioned by several other reviewers): The Birth of the Governor. If this book has a sequel, it would tell of the actual rise of the Governor. In fact, I feel that given what this particular book is lacking, there would need to be a sequel to bridge the gap between what we have been introduced to with this story and what we see when Rick, Glenn, and Michonne stumble across Woodbury in the comic books.
While this story wasn’t quite what I expected, I had no issue with it as a stand alone tale in TWD universe. It is the story of a normal human being, doing his best to survive the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. In that regard, this story parallels TWD. We are introduced to a group of survivors: brothers Philip and Brian Blake, two of Philip’s friends-Bobby and Nick, and Philip’s young daughter, Penny. Philip is the leader of this small bad of survivors trying hard to cope in this new world. Bobby and Nick follow Philip’s lead, as they have always done in life before the apocalypse, which is usually a good thing, since he is willing to do what it takes to remain alive. The story covers their saga of survival as they travel across Georgia, from a wealthy subdivision outside Atlanta where they hide out for a time, to a barricaded apartment building inside the city that they share with other survivors, to their grim journeys out into the sticks, where they finally arrive at Woodbury, the town that the Governor rules with an iron fist in TWD comic books.
As I mentioned, I would be willing to read a sequel to this story; one that would further explain how the man who enters Woodbury near the end of this tale transforms into the man who can do such unthinkable and horrible things to other survivors in the comic books-especially to Michonne and Rick. But if this book, and the psychological transformation that occurs within its pages, is the only justification offered up as to why the Governor is the way he is by the writers of this novel, I just can’t buy it. There has to be more trauma put upon him to allow him to become such a casually evil and demonic creature. I firmly believe this. To elaborate further would reveal spoilers, which I’m unwilling to do. So again, my hope is that there is a plan to scribe another book…part 2, if you will, though I doubt that is the case.
Again, this book, as a standalone tale of survival during the zombie apocalypse, is entertaining. Present tense writing is not the norm, but it does speak of the immediacy of everything going on around the characters and keeps the energy level high, for the most part. I didn’t have a real issue with that. I did feel that the author could have toned down the descriptive verse a bit. He creates vivid images, but I often felt a bit overwhelmed by the details he would elaborate on, when simpler descriptives would have sufficed. That is a minor niggling detail though. My main concern with this story is that it only shares the beginning of the metamorphosis the man who turns into the Governor. There is a big chunk missing in the tale that goes from this story and ends when we come across the full blown Governor in TWD comic books. It is THAT tale, the middle portion of the man’s saga, that I really want to read.
The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Dead-Rise-Governor/dp/0312547730/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322941209&sr=8-1